In the Islamic tradition, God says ‘fasting belongs to Me’ (whereas, all other acts are done to either directly harm or benefit the soul). The fast belongs to God because it is the only act of worship that none but God can see. It is, therefore, the act of moving from the relative and temporary, to the Absolute. The Absolute, that is present and is the source of both the Outer (zahir) and the Inner (batin).
On spiritual wayfaring
The starting point for the one who embarks on a journey into their Self is to recognise the state in which they stand before the Divine Truth – that is – a state of utter, spiritual poverty. To dive into the cosmic ocean of Love and Grace means to leave parts of the Self behind that beg attachment to the physical, removing us from the metaphysical. The month of Ramadan arrives for this very purpose, to enable us to acknowledge the elements of our reality that shackle us to the temporal world. Once we acknowledge this, we begin to abstain from it (or at the very least, make an attempt, however feeble).
Reza Shah Kazemi writes,
‘[Fasting] is abstaining from the ego or being liberated from the tyranny of the ego and turning to the Face of the Absolute; when you fast if you are not feasting every moment, it is not fasting. In other theocentric traditions, it is the cultivating of the Vacare Deo; the spiritual poverty cultivated for Reality by abstaining from the relative illusory…until one arrives at the station of knowing nothing but God in His transcendence and immanence…the la ilaha (no God) gives way to il Allah (except Reality)’
In the Sufi tradition, God is often referred to as the ‘Saqi’ (the cup bearer), who fills the cup of those He loves, with an elixir so pure, that the drinker need only take one sip to transform their reality. For the one who wishes to abstain from their desires, this love that they seek to attain, also known as, ‘ishq-e-Haqiqi’ (True Love), is the final destination.
The spiritual wayfarer thus desires nothing but His countenance. To be able to live in a realm wherein all else fades, but His presence. This kind of experience and consciousness, seems almost a rarity when we place it against the backdrop of the modern world in which we are living in today. In a world that is submerged in the bubble of individualism, where consumerism arrives to place a veil over our spiritual inclinations we must remember that it is sufficient for us to beautify our hearts for the gaze of God. We have been given the duty to engage in meaningful contemplation and reflection both in solitude and as a community and we must see to it that this mission is upheld with utmost honour and grace.
Gateway to God’s Book
The month of Ramadan arrives to enable us to reconnect with the words of God. It is, in a sense, a portal into the Divine Secret – laid bare for all those willing to be in a state of pilgrimage. To understand even one ayat or verse in the Quran, actualise both its esoteric and exoteric significance, would mean we have moved one step closer to completing the holy circle.
It invites us to sit in God’s Holy Banquet, feasting on the fruits of contentment with His will, His Divinity, and the ultimate Reality. To awaken the conscience so that it sees only with the eyes of God. To be able to reflect on the words that provide solace to our sorrows. That enable us to sit with our emotions and truly re-align our hearts so that the Divine Truth rests at its Centre.
Needless to say, this is not an easy task. The word of God has been revealed to us for the very reason of navigating through the troubled waters of Selfhood. The beauty of the the Holy Words is that the verses manifest themselves to us according to our state of being, our needs, our wants, our desires. This is the power of His Holy Word…the heart can therefore only become filled with gratitude for having the ability to once again know and understand the Qur’an in the month that it had been revealed to humankind.
The art of surrender
The path of the God-conscious is unique in that it asks us to abstain from certain acts, in order to gain closeness to the Holy. Part of why the struggle of abstaining from desire is highly esteemed, is that it begs the person who accepts His holy invitation, to surrender.
‘Allāmeh ‘Alī Qādī Tabātabā’ī writes,
‘The wayfarer must understand and accept the fact that God has created him a covetous being. No matter how much he struggles to overcome his desire, he will not succeed, for desire is part of his innate nature. The yearning to eliminate desire from his soul implies the presence of a desire, so all he has done is replace a lower desire with that of a higher one. Therefore, when he finds himself helpless and unable to free himself of desire, he will have to entrust his affair to God and set aside any thought of eradicating desire from his soul by himself. The admission of helplessness and weakness burns down the very root of desire and purifies him’
Though the art of surrendering, truly surrendering to the rule of the universe is a difficult feat. To be God-conscious, to move from being egocentric to theocentric requires us to uproot our soul from the soil of complacency. Nothing eases this transition more than being in a state of fasting. When we choose to refrain from our carnal desires, we come to the realisation that we have within us, the potential to completely surrender. When the person who fasts abandons food and drink, they become almost God-like through a participation in God’s own freedom from want.
Better the Devil you know
In his magnum opus, The Meccan Revelations, Ibn Arabi claims that God created humanity in order to make Himself known. Thus, the purpose of man’s existence is to know God. To traverse upon the journey within is a long and oftentimes lonesome one. We realise that the thinnest veil of ego is the one that keeps us away from the truth. Ibn Arabi further explains that Man is nothing but a mirror where God’s attributes are reflected. He is the one who sees Himself in that mirror, and the only one who knows Himself.
When we recognise our nothingness and God’s totality, we attain full knowledge of ourselves and of Him. In this sense, to be ‘Muslim’, or to be in a state of complete submission, is merely aspirational. A true believer is the one who is at peace with the Divine.
Here, we once again arrive at the most pertinent goal, which is, to transform our inner Self, our consciousness. The complete alchemisation of our hearts into pure gold (also the original form in which it had been created before flesh made it possible for corruption) can only take place once we go through the valleys of hardship, of pain, of sorrows, obstacles, tribulations, and endless abysses.
In the month of Ramadan, though it may be difficult, we ask Allah how much longer this distinction between ‘You’ and ‘I’ shall exist. We ask Him to take the ‘I’ from within so that all that remains is ‘He’. This is the power of fasting. It is in many ways a portal into our own self. It is a way of understanding the things, people, moments, that tie us to the world and prevent us from experiencing the ecstatic feeling of being whole, complete, and devoted to the Truth.
The reality of humankind is that there is no reality. Trials and tribulations will envelop all but our willpower to persevere, the pain of separation will subdue and the world will perish. Nothing will remain except His face [55:26-27]. The most pertinent question for the self is, have we transitioned into a being that will be able to contain the grandeur of His Holy Presence?
‘Neither My [Allah] Heavens, nor My Earth could encompass Me, but the heart of My believer does encompass Me’